What does the Akali Dal (Badal)'s victory in the DSGMC polls mean for Punjab?

What does the Akali Dal (Badal)'s victory in the DSGMC polls mean for Punjab?

What does the Akali Dal (Badal)'s victory in the DSGMC polls mean for Punjab?

The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has once again won the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) election, bagging 35 of the 46 seats, for which polling was held on Sunday. Its nearest rival Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi), known to be close to the Congress, could manage only seven seats.

While the top Akali leadership in Punjab, including Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal lost no time in playing up the DSGMC victory, it remains clear that this turn of events is of no consequence for the Punjab elections that were held on 4 February. There, however, are strong symbolic messages in this victory that is relevant to present-day Punjab politics.

Power play

The DSGMC is the second most important and powerful elected body of the Sikhs after the Amritsar-based Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

To begin with, the DSGMC polls were contested in the absence of Badal and his son Sukhbir. Immediately after the Punjab polls, Badal had gone off to the United States of America for his health check-up. He was followed by Sukhbir and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is also a Union minister.

This led to the entire DSGMC poll campaign for the SAD (Badal) being carried out under the leadership of Manjit Singh GK and Manjinder Singh Sirsa. They managed to secure the support of the majority of the 3.75 lakh Sikh voters in the national capital.

It was only towards the last phase of the campaign that Sukhbir, who is also the president of SAD (Badal), came back to supervise the poll preparations and campaign. But reports say that he mainly preferred backstage management without going amid voters.

Observers said this gave credence to the theory which is prevalent in Punjab as well – that the Akali rank and file stands annoyed with the Badals and not with the party.

This was the sentiment prevailing in Punjab on the eve of the recently held Assembly polls and the results and voting patterns are expected to substantiate it.

The Dera angle

The second key issue that has a direct bearing on the SAD (Badal) politics in Punjab is the split between the Delhi and Punjab units over the party taking the support of the controversial Dera Saccha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

While the party had at the last moment taken the support of the Dera and its followers in Punjab, the story in Delhi was totally different.

Here, Manjit Singh GK and other leaders had lashed out at the party leadership right from the day it took the support of the Dera. They continued with the verbal attacks on the Dera and its chief at every interaction with the voters. Call it a master tactical move or whatever, the strategy paid off very well.

The message from the Delhi leadership also holds true for the Akali cadres in Punjab that they were not happy with the party taking the Dera help. But political observers say that the party would have faced a washout if it had not done so in Punjab.

There is also a line of thought that says that the move was made in Punjab to prevent the upsurge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), particularly in the Malwa region where the Dera has a lot of influence. Malwa accounts for 69 of the total 117 assembly constituencies of Punjab.

Why the anti-Badal sentiment?

The third issue that had led to the anti-Badal sentiment in Punjab was that of the continuing instances of desecration of holy books. However, the hardline groups who had managed to draw large crowds to Sikh supporters during the Sarbat Khalsa at Chhaba near Amritsar in late 2015 could not carry forward this support base to the DSGMC polls.

Besides, the electorate in Delhi did not have any serious complaints against the SAD (Badal)-led body and decided to vote them in once again.

The DSGMC reportedly has an annual budget of Rs 100 crore and manages nine gurudwaras, six colleges and 18 schools among other institutions in the national capital. It is also the representative body of over eight lakh Sikhs in Delhi.

Interestingly, while the Congress backed the SAD (Delhi) group led by Paramjit Singh Sarna, AAP – the party that has emerged as the third important political force in Punjab – could not leave its mark in the DSGMC polls. This happened following AAP's dilly-dally approach on supporting the Panthic Sewa Dal (PSD) that it had reportedly propped up some months ago.

Meanwhile, Badal and Sukhbir have come out with strong statements over the party's victory in the DSGMC polls. Badal described the results as a triumph of 'Sewa' over sponsored seekers of power through falsehood and sensationalism.

“It is a massive victory of the Sikh kaum (community) achieved with the blessings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib against those who have always sided with the enemies of the Panth and betrayed the community for petty selfish gains. The mandate is also an unequivocal endorsement of the party’s approach towards and handling of crucial Sikh issues by the party,” he said.

Sukhbir, on the other hand, has described the poll outcome as a 'victory of Khalsa Panth over the old and new enemies of the Sikh masses'.

“This is the powerful and befitting reply from the community to the vicious and mischievous campaign of falsehood spread by a handful of self-centered elements operating under various disguises,” he said.

Senior political analyst in Punjab Jagtar Singh told Catch that the SGMC polls have symbolic relevance for Punjab.

“There was a time when events in Delhi had a direct bearing on Punjab. It was during the massive movements during the time of Tara Singh at the helm of Akali politics for which Delhi was the centre-stage. Even during the Dharam Yuddh Morcha of the Akalis in the early 1980s, the national capital was the theatre of the reportedly proposed demonstrations against the Asian 1982,” he explained.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen